It’s now five years since your birth day; five years and about thirty-seven hours since your heart beat last.
There is something about this year that has made my baby memories extra-vivid. I have thought of you so much this spring. I feel your days coming the first time the weather gets hot. Despite seemingly constant over-busy-ness in the last two months, you’ve been right at the top of my heart most of the time. It has felt strange, being in our new house where you never lived… but I feel you anyway.
I thought about you especially on your big brother’s seventh birthday. I could viscerally remember bringing E home as a newborn: the sunshine, the tiny onesies, the smell of welcome-home fruit crumble, the swaddling blankets, the days of rapt, awestruck bliss.
I remember how I felt that week when Emi told me that a friend of hers had borne a son on the same day I had, but that hers had been stillborn. My heart dropped like a rock as I tried to fathom how any parent could withstand that pain, when I could barely let my own newborn out of my arms.
Then, two years and one month later, you were born still, and I became friends with that same bereaved mama, who offered beautiful, generous words of empathy that I’ve never forgotten. By that time, she had a second daughter, who is now five – like you. What a strange, sad, lovely, mysterious entwining of lives and deaths.
Normally, school ends and there is that sudden space in my life at the beginning of July – and I let myself ponder you as much as I want. This year, I haven’t had time to spend with you, but my systems knew what they were doing and went all weepy anyway. I didn’t know what to do with that, because five is a heavy milestone, and it was getting lost in the preparation for Family Camp.
Then yesterday, I arrived here at NeeKauNis, and I suddenly felt lighter, righter, like you were all around me. It was quiet and fragrant and humid and leafy. I saw you, in this bright face.
And I saw you again in this expansive sky-smile, after a much-needed, stormy downpour.
Today, the other families arrived, and our Camp is full. It is busy and noisy and full of life.
This week, I’m going to watch for you. Beauty has always been where I see you, and interacting with beauty is how I feel close to you.
I really wish there were some way I could cuddle you again. Part of me feels entitled to, after missing you for so long. But I’m glad you’re here with us.
When I was 18, a boy at Camp wrote a poem for me. Although I didn’t requite his crush, I still consider his poem one of the most romantic things I’ve ever received, because of its candour. The second line was “She’s just like sunshine through the trees,” and to this day I still feel kinda thrilled about that. Sunshine through the trees is one of my favourite things in the whole world.
A while back, I heard on CBC about a study showing that spending time in green space improves our mental health. Apparently, being in the presence of leafy trees actually makes us happier.
I think most of us can vouch for this. At the end of a long, white winter, I’m sure I am not alone in feeling an almost physical thirst for those luscious green leaves. It’s nice to get this confirmation: we are built to feel that way.
Family Camp at NeeKauNis last month was full of reminders of the things we are built to do and enjoy.
Here we are, in the age of modern medicine, where Westerners rarely worry about diseases that used to kill us in great numbers – smallpox and tuberculosis, for example – and we’ve handily encouraged a phalanx of new maladies all by ourselves.
We eat packaged food so far removed from its sources that we don’t even recognize the ingredients; then we wonder why we have troubles with our various organs and our energy levels.
We’ve surrounded ourselves with harmful chemicals in our food, clothes, grass, household products, and everything plastic; then we are devastated when opportunistic cancers have a field day.
We spend hours a day sitting, hunched over some screen or other, often sacrificing sleep for addictive overstimulation; then we realize – too late, sometimes – that our heart or lungs or joints or brains don’t work properly anymore.
We live in our container-homes, put in our earbuds so no live people can distract us, and avoid eye contact with the humans who serve us coffee or check out our groceries; then we shake our heads at the rise of prescription anti-depressant use.
I’m not speaking in self-righteousness. I do most of these things too. I’m not condemning modern medicine either, or technology in general. I really appreciate the benefits of ultra-portable computers, affordable antibiotics, high-speed transportation, laparoscopic surgery, and the wondrous capacity of the internet. I like Cheetos and Toaster Strudel, I watch TV on Netflix, I love Facebook, and as I’ve mentioned, I am very grateful for the existence of prescription anti-depressants.
But when I’m in a restaurant and see a family of four at the next table, not speaking, each absorbed in a separate hand-held device, my husband and I look at each other and quietly vow: That will never be us.
And at Family Camp, I remember that when those contemporary facets of life drop away for a few days, it does good to every layer of our selves.
It helps that there are children of all ages there. They’re all over the things that humans are meant to do. Just watching and listening to them is therapy.
Children run and jump and climb and slide. They laugh their heads off, and cry hard when they need to. They sing and dance with joy. They build and knock down. They splash and spin. They scrunch their fingers and toes in the sand. They get dirty with real dirt. They want stories, hugs, their own little space, and their own accomplishments.
I want those things, too.
When I think about what really, actually makes me feel good, it’s mostly simple things. The things I’m built to do. The same things humans have been doing for centuries – or longer.
Dancing until I am out of breath.
Cooking for someone I love.
Getting lost in a great book.
Sitting in dappled shade. (Sunshine through the trees.)
Plunging into cool water on a hot day.
Sipping a hot drink on a cold day.
Listening to music I love – or better yet, making some.
Hearing breezes, birds, crickets, rivers, waves.
Looking closely at something beautiful.
Reading to my kids.
Going to bed when I’m really tired.
Walking in fresh air.
Eating something truly delicious.
Sharing thoughts and feelings with a friend.
Doing a job well.
Having an adventure.
I know, they read like clichés, worthy of a curlicued garden tile. But there are reasons the inspirational-message market is so successful. Mostly, it’s because
1) It really IS good for us to dance as if nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening, etc., because we’re built to.
2) We busy humans are remarkably good at forgetting the value of those seemingly easy things.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the thousand little jobs you have to do on a daily basis. I could easily spend all of every day doing small, necessary, basically mindless tasks. Which is not satisfying at all.
For me, I know, I need to think of those good-for-my-soul things as medicine. Taking my medicine is my responsibility, something I must do for my health. And in order to take it, I have to notice it. I have to be truly mindful and present.
That way, any time I can grab a bit of dappled shade or kid snuggles or good conversation, they will heal what ails me.
This past Sunday, as you know, was Mother’s Day, and also my thirty-sixth birthday. It was pretty much as lovely as I could have wished for.
You also could say it started on Saturday, when I got to (1) take an impromptu nap on the reclining couch upon arrival at my parents’ house, while members of my family took my children outside to play, and (2) travel to Toronto, footloose and fancy(/kid)-free, get treated to dinner with my brother and sisters and Uncle D, and get treated to see Auntie Beth perform in a choir concert with Singing OUT.
Baby AB gave me my first Mother’s Day gift on Sunday by sleeping in until EIGHT a.m. before asking for mama-snacks. First time! WOOT!!
My children also gave me a new snazzy purple lunch bag as a gift (not at all orchestrated by my Hubbibi, who was offended by my old lunch bag which was slightly on the dingy side).
The rest of my birthday included:
both of my immediate families, in full, plus one of my cousins and two of my aunts;
the best weather we’ve had so far this year;
lots of Facebook-friend love, and a call from my mom-in-law;
brunch – is there anything better than brunch?? – and on the DECK, no less;
a nap in the hammock;
treats all day long;
getting to fix one of my costumes with hardly any interruption;
stories and playing and hugs and kisses with my living kids;
quiet time to reflect on and remember the one I can’t hug;
a family walk along the trail to the boardwalk (during which we thrillingly saw dogs, birds, frogs, bugs, snakes, AND a surprise geocache!)
attractive gifts with which to adorn myself;
a free massage from D (who is studying to be a naturopathic doctor and managed to give me more neck mobility than I’ve had in weeks);
barbecued Portobello-Swiss burgers with tomato and avocado, followed by peanut butter cup ice cream;
coming home to a very clean house, thanks to my Hubbibi.
It did not include:
dishwashing (by me);
meal preparation (by me);
housework of any kind (by me);
or a single diaper change (by me).
IT WAS AWESOME. I couldn’t ask for any more. Thank you, sweet family.
Sweet little decorative rose, petal sleeves, a bit of lace at the bottom. Understated, sophisticated. Right?
The simplicity allows for some fancier shoes – also handed down, from Karissa. They’re too big yet, but whatever. Also too gorgeous to pass up.
Of course, you can’t spend all day in elegance. Nearly Naked Napping is essential on warm holiday weekends.
Speaking of nudity, E had some too.
I hate to censor the joyful little dude, but I figure the face is worth posting. Fully Naked Pool-Splashing face. When I look at this photo, I want to remember how he read the words on the hose-nozzle to Papa all by himself (“mist”, “flat”, “jet”, “spray”, and “flood” – although he put the “ooh” sound in flood).
Our family is lucky enough to be able to buy super-fresh, uber-local veggies from gardener friends of ours. Our first batch included pea shoots, green onions, rhubarb, and sorrel.
To my knowledge, I had never cooked with or even eaten sorrel. It sounded like something from Outlander. But I figured, sorrel is a green leafy thing, must be good.
And it is! But rather strange, too. I was warned that it’s “tart”, and it is. Sour, actually, in a yummy way, but strong enough that I don’t think I could eat a whole salad of sorrel. We sprinkled bits of it in our salad the other day, but would take a long time to use up all the sorrel we have at that rate.
So yesterday, I looked up sorrel recipes, and read that cooking the sorrel tones it down a bit. I found some recipes that sounded all right, especially soups, but ultimately decided to wing it.
This is how I tend to cook: winging it. Like my mom and siblings, I rarely use a recipe except to bake. And I’m not good at recording what I do when cooking, at least not with any meticulosity. But when this particular soup turned out really well, some friends asked if there was a recipe. So here is something approximating a recipe.
I coarsely chopped up a medium-large onion and two large cloves of garlic and sautéed them in melted “better butter“* on medium-high heat until they were getting brownish.
Meanwhile, I chopped up two smallish potatoes (skins on) and then threw them in and crumbled half a head of cauliflower on top.
I had some frozen vegetable stock (2-3 cups) so I put that in to melt into everything with the lid on.
I took two big handfuls of sorrel, barely chopped them, and added them a few minutes later. The stock had melted and was a nice brown colour from the onions.
Once the cauliflower was tender, I took out a couple pieces with one piece of onion and mashed it with a fork to feed to the baby. (This step is optional. I did notice that, with cauliflower for dinner, her night diaper a lot stinkier than usual, despite being just pee. Just in case you do have a baby and follow this step. Hmm. Was that an overshare?)
By this time, all the veggies were tender and the sorrel had turned brown (the Internet warned me about this – it’s because of the oxalic acid). I added some whole milk (maybe a cup?) and then took The Wand (immersion blender) to the whole thing.
It was a bit thick so I added a bit more milk and some water (probably another cup’s worth at least) until I liked the look of it, you know, sort of a restauranty consistency.
The last thing to add was about a cup-and-a-half of grated old cheddar, which I stirred in until blended.
Then I tasted it, and I was like, “Where’s the sorrel? I don’t even taste it!” So I took another modest handful of the sorrel and chopped it more finely and put it in and did not blend it. It quickly wilted right in and made itself at home.
I added salt to taste. (Our salt is actually ground butcher salt, which contains soupçons of rosemary, sage, thyme, and marjoram, which were very pleasant but not necessary.)
We also added fresh black pepper at the table.
Everyone at the table over the age of 4 called it delicious. I was frankly surprised that my experiment worked so well. We agreed it was very nice with the extra bits of sorrel, which still have an acidic kick but somehow work anyway. I like to think that the blended sorrel provided the context for them to shine.
Try it y’self! Tirrah!
*My mom introduced our family to “better butter” ages ago: you soften some salted butter in a container and add vegetable oil in equal proportion, then (carefully) Wand them together. It cuts the saturated fat and salt of the butter while retaining good flavour; it’s cheaper than pure butter all the time; and most importantly, it’s much more spreadable.
On Saturday, I’ll be thirty-five years old. (Holy smokes.) And of course, Sunday is Mother’s Day.
Over the past week or so, something has been making me feel slightly odd and touched in the head. There’s been a phantom baby inside me. Not that I have actual pregnancy symptoms (other than exhaustion and fluctuations in appetite, which can be chalked up to the baby outside me). I am definitely not pregnant.
But it’s weird – I feel movements. Convincing ones that make me involuntarily put a hand on my abdomen.
If at this point you want to take me gently aside and explain about my digestive system and gas bubbles, don’t worry. I know most of what I’m feeling is the normal business of the human body. I’ve been thinking to myself, Dilovely, you’re being ridiculous, you haven’t been pregnant for seven months.
And then it occurred to me: I have spent a large fraction of the last five years pregnant. More specifically, I have been pregnant for 4 of the last 5 birthdays and Mother’s Days.
In 2008, one of the years my birthday coincided with Mother’s Day, a cluster of cells the size of a poppyseed was growing in my womb, only to release itself 17 days later.
In 2009, I was rotund, less than a month away from the hardest and most amazing experience of my life to that date: delivering my firstborn son.
In 2011, I was expecting his brother, who would, as you know, arrive five weeks early, and leave us even before we held him.
Last year on Mother’s Day, I was halfway through my pregnancy with Baby AB, having monthly ultrasounds and periodic ECGs, hyper-aware of every signal she provided telling me she was okay. Now, she’s just over seven months old, and as healthy as rosy little piglet. She weighs over four times what Sebastian weighed at birth.
Once I put all this together, I stopped fretting about my phantom baby. No wonder when I sing lullabies to my daughter, I find myself reflexively imagining the sound travelling through my body to envelop a tiny person inside. It kind of makes sense that as my body takes in the thrilling fragrances of the blooming season, it should also remember its own blooming. It’s not a flight of fancy; it’s just a memory.
And why should I be the only one to feel this presence?
This morning, E asked me, seemingly apropos of nothing, “Mama, when is the new baby coming?”
There was an upside-down moment where I was right in step with his question, then a jolt as I reminded myself that it was a strange thing for him to say.
I had to ask him to repeat it, just to be sure I’d heard him right. I know he still wishes for a baby brother (one he can keep). Lovingly, I told him I’m not pregnant; he responded matter-of-factly, “Yes, you are.”
And it’s rational enough. Why shouldn’t I be pregnant every spring, like a mama duck? His memories of my pregnancies may be vague, but they might still inform his inner concept of spring.
My first uninhabited Mother’s Day since Sebastian. There’s something really hard about this.
In truth, I’m glad not to be pregnant. I definitely have my arms full as it is. If I feel emptiness as well… I can manage it. It hurts, but then – there’s so much joy in living with my scrumptious little progeny. This full-empty Mother’s Day is unique to this moment in my life, this golden babyhaving time that’s as tough as it is glorious – and brief.
I’m thankful for all of it.
Visit Yeah Write for some high quality weekend reading…